Art supply store is palette-pleaser

Oil and Water will focus on media in 2D.

The island’s first art supply store proves that oil paint and watercolor really can mix.

Dubbed Oil and Water for the mixed media stocked on shelves, the store opens April 30 in the 900-square-foot building across from the Pavilion, the former home of Island Movies.

“When we tell people we’re doing this it’s just joy and jubilation, because...they don’t have to go off the island to get what they need,” said business co-owner Richard Nelson. “But we feel this huge responsibility, and it’s gaining every time we talk to somebody and they say, ‘you’re opening an art supply store – it’s about time.’”

The idea for the store grew from Nelson’s own frustration when, after moving here in 1996 and setting up a print studio, he couldn’t find art supplies on the island.

Nelson, who spent 25 years running research vessels for UCLA as director of marine operations as well as making his art, took a job in an art supply store to learn the nuts and bolts of the business.

“I knew about my own media,” he said, “but I knew I didn’t know about running an art supply store. So I went to work in the business and worked for five years.”

Nelson and his wife Judy joined forces with Steve Arnold and Laurie Bauman-Arnold to open the store – a project that Nelson compares to beginning with a blank canvas.

The metaphor finds literal representation in the store’s new purple and puce exterior, offering passersby a preview of the multi-colored mix of media stocking shelves inside.

While Oil and Water will carry an assortment of art supplies – from oven-bake and air-dry clays in the children’s section to pyrometric cones, the small spikes used by ceramists to gauge kiln temperature – the store will focus on two-dimensional media. Offerings include Arches and Fabriano papers, a range of stretcher bars and rolled canvas, and a stock of pre-stretched canvases as large as 48 by 60 inches.

But it’s the paints and other innovative media that has Nelson most excited.

“I think the line we’re most proud of is the Sennelier line,” Nelson said, “because Sennelier has this incredible culture. They made paints for the Impressionists back in 1887.”

The store also carries Sennelier’s student-grade paint, Etude. Other lines include Shiva and Gamblin, a Northwest company offering handmade paints.

“They’re highly pigmented, highly archival. They’re top of the line.”

Other cutting-edge materials include the R&F line of pigmented encaustic waxes – an updating of a technique used in ancient Greece. Having pigments already bound up into the wax means that artists no longer have to mix the dangerous cadmium powders into the melted wax.

“This stuff (encaustic) is thousands of years old,” Nelson said, “but this is a new form of it that will open it up. And we are the only store in the Pacific Northwest that sells it.”

Nelson says his store will carry nontoxic supplies, like Akua Kolor water-based printmaking inks.

He expects the clientele to run the gamut from amateur to professional. The store will also cater to children, with an enclosed room featuring high-grade but inexpensive materials, art books and creative kits.

Oil and Water will emphasize art books not carried in other island stores, Nelson says, and books that explain the materials the store sells.

“If somebody needs to know how something works, we’re going to show them and let them try it,” he said. “We’re not going to just hold up a color chart.”

The store’s lawn may host art fairs and flea markets.

A more intangible stock in trade, however, may be inspiration.

“When you come into a fully stocked art supply store, like we’re going to be, you’re just bombarded with ideas,” he said. “You look at a blank canvas, and you see possibility.”

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